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Starting in April, Fair Trade International -- the same folks who certify items like coffee, tea, cocoa and bananas -- will begin work to establish standards for small-scale shrimp farmers, mostly located in Southeast Asia, where roughly 70 percent of farmed shrimp is produced.
"We're focused on social sustainability, not just environmental sustainability," Maya Spaull, director of new category innovation for Fair Trade USA told Slashfood.
Shrimp farmers will be organized into cooperatives, much in the same way the concept has been applied to coffee growers for decades. Fair Trade says they hope to have a shrimp standard in place by the end of 2011, and then will likely expand the model into other marine products like tilapia and lobster.
Later this month, the California Ocean Protection Council will be meeting in Sacramento to work on a voluntary sustainable seafood label. The idea is to identify and promote seafood caught by California fishermen, landed in California ports. That may mean spiny lobsters, sea urchins or crab could eventually carry a California sustainable sticker. What's cool about this label will be the ability to scan it with a smart phone -- which would bring up a bounty of information.
"You could find out who caught it, what gear they were using, the kind of boat, studies on that particular fish, recipes -- you name it," says Valerie McCormick, OPC project manager. "We want to be as transparent as possible and to show Californians how important our fisheries are."
The timing of the California sustainable seafood launch depends on some regulatory hoop-jumping, followed by a fishery certification process. That means it could be more than a year before it will appear at local fish counters.
A bit closer on the horizon is the much anticipated launch of the Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC). In the works since 2009, the ASC label is expected to hit retail shelves by the end of 2011, and will focus on a dozen farm-raised seafood items including: salmon, shrimp, pangasius, tilapia, freshwater trout, oysters, abalone, mussels, clams, scallops, amberjack and cobia.
Standards for shrimp farming are expected to be completed this month. The target date for trout is May; salmon by the end of July, and cobia and amberjack by October. Standards for the remaining items have been completed. Similar to the way the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certifies wild-caught seafood, the ASC label will apply to farm-raised fish. That focus is timely. According to a U.N. Food & Agriculture report, aquaculture now accounts for roughtly 46 percent of the world's total food fish supply.
Ocean Conservancy's George Leonard says eco-labels for seafood have a place, but warns there are dangers too.
"Proliferation of seafood labels is a recognition that consumer choice is a really powerful force for change, but everyone needs to be wary of greenwashing," Leonard tells Slashfood. "At the end of the day, if the standards behind these processes are bogus, it threatens to take down the entire eco-labeling movement."